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Special session negotiations fall apart in Minnesota

The Minnesota Legislature ended its regular session in May without making any decisions on how to use a historic 9.25 billion surplus or passing public projects borrowing bill.

FSA Minnesota Capitol 2019
Lawmakers returned to the Minnesota State Capitol Jan. 8, 2019, for the reconvening of the Legislature.
Michael Brun / Forum News Service
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ST. PAUL — Minnesota legislative leaders have failed to reach an agreement on terms for a special session where lawmakers would return to the capitol to address unfinished business, including deciding how the state would use its projected $9.25 billion budget surplus.

Gov. Tim Walz and House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, told reporters Thursday evening, June 16, that negotiations with the Republican-controlled Senate had reached an impasse. Walz said Republicans were unwilling to make any offers beyond one they made on May 23, despite multiple offers from Democratic-Farmer-Labor leadership.

“I think it's deeply disappointing,” Hortman said. “We have spent all of the days since the end of the session — working in some cases around the clock — to get offers that move hundreds of millions of dollars towards the Senate positions. We have put four new offers on the table. We have not gotten any responses from Republicans.”

Walz, Hortman and Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, said during the final week of the regular session in May that they had reached a deal on how to use the state’s surplus. The rough framework called for $4 billion in funding for public safety, education and tax cuts, and $4 billion in tax cuts, including state Social Security taxes.

But negotiations fell apart and the regular legislative session fizzled out with no significant legislation passed on those issues. In order for the Senate and House to reconvene and pass any spending bills the governor could sign, Walz would have to call a special session. Lawmakers are restricted to meeting January through May without the governor calling them back.

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The Minnesota legislative session fizzled to a close on Monday with many top issues left unresolved.

Miller in a statement said negotiations fell apart because DFLers and Republicans had significant differences in their spending priorities.

“With a massive budget surplus, Republicans made it a priority to give money back to the people, invest in public safety with more good cops on the streets and holding criminals accountable, invest in literacy programs to help kids read, and provide more funding for nursing homes and disability service providers,” Miller said. “Simply put, Gov. Walz and the House Democrats have different spending priorities than Minnesotans. After four months of session and four more weeks of discussions, the differences could not be resolved.”

In early June, Walz remained optimistic that legislative leaders would be able to reach an agreement on priorities and return to the capitol. But now nearly two weeks later it appears that they may have to wait until the regular session begins next January.

The Legislature also failed to appropriate matching state funds for hundreds of millions in federal funding for transportation, wastewater and other projects in the 2021 federal infrastructure bill.

Lawmakers also typically pass a significant public infrastructure projects bonding bill during even-numbered years, but the regular session ended in May without any borrowing proposal for the governor to sign. Legislative leaders were proposing $1.4 billion in borrowing for projects, but that will now have to wait.

Walz said the stalled negotiations "do not serve Minnesota well” and that he remains open to future discussion.

"We're prepared. We're here. We'll come back. We'll continue to show and show offers we certainly can put together and show how far we move or we compromise,” he said. "And I continue to ask, what do we need to do? And I don't believe we've heard a concrete answer.”

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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